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7 Ways to Enjoy Touristy Phuket There's still hope for this done-to-death spot.

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve visited Phuket. In my memory, it was always this over-touristy town that doesn’t have much personality but is still fairly enjoyable. But as with any well-established holiday destination, there’s plenty of choices for accommodation and activities, enabling visitors to tailor a variety of experiences. This time around, 18 of us (I know right) converged here to celebrate Ade’s 30th birthday, and the trip’s itinerary was packed with pretty exciting stuff thanks to Priya and her organising committee. So even though the destination was rather predictable, I still had a bloody good time! Here’s what made it amazing…

1. Head to Kamala Beach

Stay away from Patong Beach at all costs! We drove past it and it’s still the same old cheap, tasteless, touristy nonsense. Unless it’s your first time in Asia or Thailand, I wouldn’t recommend it at all. Stay at Kamala Beach instead, which is a rustic, languid village that’s much less populated. It doesn’t have as much choices for nightlife and restaurants as Patong, but it’s sure less sleazy and a whole lot more relaxing.

And check out the killer sunset at this beach!

2. Pick a villa with a killer infinity pool

All of us were packed into the gigantic Bann Chang Thai villa sourced from Airbnb. It’s a good place for huge groups as it has spacious common areas for dining and lounging, including an infinity pool that looks out into the nearby mountains. We spent most of our time there, laughing, drinking, and talking shit. A pity that it’s located in a private residential area, so loud parties after 11pm are prohibited. And while there are some jaw-droppingly gorgeous bedrooms in the villa, half of them were rather dated, and doesn’t justify the SGD120/night price tag for each person. But, that’s coming from a Singaporean who has experienced quite a few villas around Southeast Asia. The Europeans thought it was a stunning accommodation.

3. Visit Elephants

So glad Priya suggested we drop by the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Phuket! I’ve always wanted to visit elephant rescues. If you’re considering this, please don’t be put off by the SGD100 price tag. I know it’s a hefty cost, but a lot of funds are needed to feed these rescue elephants and keep them safe and happy. I loved every bit of the experience, feeding, petting, bathing, and playing in the mud with these gentle giants. It’s also the first time that I’ve seen an elephant sucking its own trunk (bottom right picture) like how a toddler sucks his thumb! Too cute.

4. Go diving

The King Cruiser wreck stole the show with a wonderful display of white and purple living corals, which was home to many clown fish families and a giant puffer fish. The reef dive at Shark Point was another crowd-pleaser. I’m not the best at remembering which type of fish I saw — I’m a happy diver as  long as the visibility is good, as I just love kicking back, floating around, and enjoying the warm waters while swimming among colourful little fish. More footage to come when I find the time to edit the video clips!

5. Get on a Junk

We spent one hot, hot afternoon out at sea on this boat that’s almost as fabulous as us. Had a real sweet time lounging out on the deck, and then watching the surreal sunset over the horizon. Our white-and-gold theme photographed so well too!

There was a quick stop at a deserted island, where we could snorkel around and enjoy the private beach. The waters were cool and clear, making it a very nice dip after roasting in the searing afternoon heat.

6. Eat at Lillo Island

We loved Lillo Island so much we kept going back for more. It’s located along Kamala Beach, and serves the best Thai food in the vicinity. I was too damn hungry and greedy each time we came here, so I only took a picture of my favourite dish there — Pad See Ew (seafood kway teow). It’s on the sweet side, and this oily plate of carbs was incredibly satisfying. Everything else we ordered was great too: pineapple rice, morning glory, basil chicken, clams, friend calamari, steamed fish… I’m sure everything else they have on their menu is authentic and tasty.

7. Dress Up

Ade picked a tribal theme for her birthday dinner, and everyone turned up in such colourful outfits! I’m usually very lazy with these dressing up parties, but at least the photos turned out great and the effort was worth it. Hah. Aren’t we fab?

Some very lovely portraits by Yosh.

All in all, an amazing holiday with incredible people that turned a B-grade destination ace.

Beach bumming on Koh Tao Cheap dives, good (but slightly pricey) food, and all-round relaxation.

[stag_dropcap font_size=”88px” style=”squared”]K[/stag_dropcap]oh Tao was a fairly easy choice for me as a quick getaway, mostly because it’s known for its cheap diving. All my vacations this year have been beach destinations, and it never fails to remind me of how perfect Asia is for that.

I love beach holidays because I’m lazy and enjoy being a slow-moving blob. I love that I can walk around in loose fitting clothes and slippers, with no make up and un-styled hair. I love that meals involve pigging out on seafood while listening to the waves. I love that I can dive into warm waters and experience anti-gravity while floating alongside vibrant marine life. I love sitting and staring out at the sea for unusually long periods. I love that time has no precedence on beach holidays, and wifi is just an afterthought.

And this is how Koh Tao allowed me to tick all of those boxes.

TRANQUILITY

We heard that the island can be pretty packed with divers during the peak season in the middle of the year, so it was good that we visited in September. Shanna and I were surprised at how easily we found an empty beach. This lovely spot is just a short walk away from Koh Tao’s main Mae Haad Pier — where the ferries from Koh Samui off load tourists. We were happy with our discovery, and wasted no time to park our asses at this shabby shack to sip on drinks, while being horizontal.

High Bar offered a different kind of serenity. Nestled in a densely forested area, the cafe’s al fresco section overlooks the scenery from a height, giving you the feeling of being utterly enveloped by nature. The sense of peace was exquisite. It calmed my soul, and I could’ve just float away from the corporeal realm in this bliss if not for a female tourist who was yakking away and trying way too hard to flirt with and impress a local boy.

Our luxe stay at Haadtien Beach Resort was also cradled by trees. While its location is way too secluded for my liking , I was in love with our little dreamy cabin. It was flanked by two other similar huts, but it was still enough privacy for us to fully enjoy the silence and greenery while hanging out on the patio. The stay set us back SGD75 each per night. One downside of this accommodation is that free shuttle service to town is not provided and taxi rides cost a SGD8 each way.

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All breakfasts should be enjoyed like this every day! The hotel has little booth seats that are elevated just above the private beach, making it a lovely spot to eat, then lie back and watch the gentle ebb and flow of waves. The food, however, was a disappointment as the flavours were muted, I’m guessing to suit its mainly white customers.

Pirate Bar is another of our favourite finds this trip. It’s located at the very end of Saan Jao beach, south of the island. We almost gave up our search for it, but then realised that it’s hidden from plain sight. You had to walk through a restaurant to get to it, and it thrilled us to no end when we finally made it there! It’s a cute little spot to hide away from… the already quiet beach? Haha. Anyways, it was an achievement to get there. And it was a little scary to walk across the stilted walkway that had no hand rails and only dim, dim lights to guide us on the way back.

PICTURESQUE BEACHES

The beaches on Koh Tao were nice and chill, but the most photogenic one is on Nangyuan island, a short boat ride away. We paid SGD16 each for the return trip, and spent around three hours snorkeling, snoozing, and soaking up the sun there.

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Nangyuan island
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The beaches look rather peculiar as it’s made up of thin strips of sands, kinda like runways.
The pretty beach lured me in and made me stay for too long, and I ended up bring pretty burnt.
The pretty beach lured me in, made me stay for too long, and I ended up getting pretty burnt.

EATS

The thing about Koh Tao is that it’s rather touristy. In the sense that the main street is more packed with restaurants with “outsider” prices, rather than shabby local joints which usually serve better and cheaper local food.

Street food is always amazing in Thailand, and the oily nutella crepe from this push cart didn’t disappoint at all! Our random roadside snack made up of way-too-oily spring rolls and nuggets was also sinfully satisfying.

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On one hot, hot afternoon while we were on a hunt for Thai iced tea, a kind local pointed us to this stall. The best ones are made with a distinct tea flavour rather than overpowering sweetness, and this one was made to perfection.

The best local food we had on this trip was at Ying Yang Thai restaurant, which we stumbled upon while making our way to Chalok Baan Kao Bay. We had chicken wings, crispy egg pork salad, shrimp fried rice and stir fry basil pork, all of which were so on point.

The best local food we had on this trip was at Ying Yang Thai restaurant (ranked #7 on Tripadvisor), which we stumbled upon while making our way to Chalok Baan Kao Bay. We had the chicken wings, crispy egg pork salad, shrimp fried rice, and stir fry basil pork, all of which tasted like true blue tasty Thai dishes. Shanna had a short bout of food poisoning the morning after our meal here, but I guess it was worth the runs?

Our next best meal was a surprise. We looked up Tripadvisor one evening when we were craving some Western dishes, and decided on La Pizzarie as it was ranked #6 of 148 Restaurants in Koh Tao. We had to navigate some dark alleys and roads that weren’t mapped on Google to get there, and when we arrived, we had doubts as to whether it was the right place as it was very empty for such a highly-rated place. It looks more like a KTV / bar than a pizzeria. Thankfully, the food did it justice. The parma ham pizza was one of the juiciest I’ve had. Our pizza, salad, risotto, drinks, and two massive desserts cost us about SGD38 in all. Yup. Everything except the diving on Koh Tao is not cheap.

The #3 restaurant on Tripadvisor is a vegan, Caucasian-run cafe called Coconut Monkey. The outdoor seats overlook the sea, and we took our time to enjoy the English breakfast, and washed it down with their signature shake. Quite impressed that they managed to recreate an authentic Western taste on this island. Wonder if they import their ingredients… That would explain the hefty SGD19 price tag for the breakfast and shake.

DIVING

Koh Tao is packed to the brim with dive centres, and I picked Pura Vida simply because it was near to the hotel, and the instructors look friendly and hot from the website’s pictures. Looks get you everywhere! I did four dives in one day, and it only cost me SGD116 in total. Almost half the price you get around the region!

Here are some of my favourite shots, taken with the GoPro Plus.

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Blue-spotted stingrays are quite a common sight in South East Asian waters.

School of baby barracudasSchool of baby barracudas.

FRIENDLY STRAYS

Everyone knows I loose my mind whenever I see cats, dogs, and or any other furry animal. And I lost it many many times on this trip because there were so many friendly cats and dogs roaming the island!

Many of them were just minding their own business, chilling out and enjoying the languid day.

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Except for this little fella. Like everyone else, I’m sure you’d think “awwwwwwwwwwwwwww” when you meet such a cutie. It’s exactly what I thought, so I couldn’t help but go up to it to give it a scratch on the head. But after a few moments, this pup began playing way too rough, and wouldn’t quit play-biting. Even when I stood up to walk away, it followed me and kept on jumping and biting at my clothes even as I nudged it away multiple times.

The funniest part was watching other tourists fall into the same trap. Shanna and I had a good time lazing by the beach and witnessing how this innocent-looking pup lures people in with its cuteness and then go ape shit on their clothes. It was endlessly entertaining.

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This stray, on the other hand, was perfectly content with lying still beside me as I rubbed its belly. I was very amused at how it uses the table to stretch out further so that I can get to all his hard-to-reach areas. So nice to see animals so trusting of people… They must be treated extremely well here.

Would I return to Koh Tao? Probably only if I were to take a dive course… And also because there are just so many more islands around Asia to visit!

Bye for now!
Bye for now!

Crazy Beautiful Koh Lipe Everything you need for a beach holiday is on this island.

[stag_dropcap font_size=”88px” style=”squared”]S[/stag_dropcap]is is always fond of taking a short beach holiday whenever she’s back in Singapore. So this year, I decided to join the whole family, and suggested that we do Koh Lipe. “Koh-what?” they asked. Koh Lipe first came onto my radar about a year ago when a Polish tourist I met here said that it was his favourite beach destination of his whole South East Asian trip. Then Priya mentioned it recently that it was her Italian friend’s favourite beach, and that she was planning to head there with another friend.

I’m a sucker for lesser-known beaches, which often means sacrificing a little bit of convenience for the journey there. Most of these quieter spots around Asia involve bumpy speedboat rides, which are out of the option for my Sis’ infant and toddler. Luckily, Koh Lipe wasn’t ruled out as the most popular route there is by a medium-sized ferry from a port on Langkawi.

Welcome to paradise!
Welcome to Koh Lipe!

But this paradise comes at a price! As we needed to exit Malaysian territory and arrive on Thai soil, the immigration process is not as straightforward. The system was severely inefficient, and involved a lot of us just hanging around and waiting in the heat.

At Koh Lipe customs, they gave out European passports first and Asians last — white people made up about 80% of the tourists, so Asians had to suck it up and wait it out. Even with Ansel screaming his head off, we still had to wait almost an hour, and only got slightly ahead of some white people as Ansel continued to yell like there’s no tomorrow. When I asked them why the order was such, they couldn’t give me an answer. Discrimination? Or an “efficient” system whereby the passports were sorted according to alphabetical order of countries? They even announced “Singaporean and Malaysian passport last, OK?” Someone please enlighten me.

But the welcoming sight of Koh Lipe made all the frustration melt away…

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Pattaya beach has fine white sand, cerulean waters, and no crowds!
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Villas at Mountain Resort

It was late afternoon by the time we got to our stay at Moutain Resort, which had a jaw-droppingly gorgeous private beach. Cheers to Priya’s friend for the fabulous recommendation!

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Mountain Resort is located at the North-Eastern beach, where Sunset beach meets Sunrise beach.

Daylight was fading slowly, and there was not much left to do but dunk ourselves into the pool! Best feeling ever, after the long journey and sweltering heat.

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Mountain Resort is isolated from the main buzz at Walking Street, but they have a shuttle lorry that ferries guests down at half an hour intervals. We arrived on a Monday, and the street was pretty empty. The vibe was great though, as Koh Lipe seem to attract a more mature crowd – none of that trash that washed up on Gili Trawangan. Walking Street is lined with tiki bars, Thai and Western restaurants, as well as many drowsy strays!

DAY 2

We had breakfast al fresco, facing the stunning view. I still couldn’t get over how pretty the beach was, and what a catch this place was for the price! The family villa bungalow for four people cost SGD290/night, including breakfast.

That's Mountain Resort, built into the side of the hill.
That’s Mountain Resort, built into the side of the hill.

The rest of the day passed lazily, with some splashing about on the pristine beach, getting a torturous/shiok Thai massage, exploring more of Walking Street, snacking on chocolate pancake and iced Thai milk tea, chowing down BBQ seafood, doing a basic manicure, and enjoying cider and live music at Elephant bar.

It was everything that I missed at my last beach holiday at Gili T(rash), and I felt so damn good at the end of the day.

DAY 3

One simply cannot get enough of such a view.
One simply cannot get enough of such a view.

After some frolicking at the resort’s quiet beach, it’s time for lunch. Went back to Elephant to try their well-reviewed food. Not bad for a Western in an Asian spot!

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It was hot hot HOT!

Today, we were going on a SGD34/pax island hopping and snorkel tour that included a spot with bio-luminescent plankton. The snorkelling was basic but nice and relaxing, and Lily-Ann was a trooper for having the courage to get into the open sea. Although she clung on to sis tightly and didn’t dare look into the waters because she was afraid of the fish biting her, I’m sure she’ll love the sea after a few more tries!

Litter on pebble beach.
Litter on pebble beach.

The second last stop was at Adang beach, where they served up a lousy dinner of dry grilled chicken. Thankfully, the sunset was wonderful.

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Us at Adang beach. (Photo: Weiming)

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As the sun lowered into the horizon, we headed back in the direction of Koh Lipe’s main beach, and stopped nearby for the bio-luminescent planktons. It got so dark  by then that we had to use our phones’ lights to put on the life jacket, so I was slightly afraid of jumping into the black sea. But when I did, I realised that I could actually see the seabed thanks to the full moon! The waters were about 8m in depth, so there was some form of security in being able to see right down.

The water stays dark when you stay still. But when you start stirring the water, specks of light magically appear like fairy dust! I was utterly amused, and kept on flapping my hands and kicking my legs like an idiot the whole way.For 10 minutes, I was Tinkerbell. I went trigger happy as well, trying to capture the magic. The GoPro, however, really doesn’t function without light. So all I got was total darkness, and the sounds of muffled squeals and water splashing. -_- Any film students need B-Roll footage for an art film?

DAY 4

The post-holiday stress disorder was already creeping up on me as this was the last full day of my time here. I’d already fallen hard for this glorious island, and I hadn’t even gone diving! I took up 3 fun dives for SGD135 with Ko Lipe Diving (such a great SEO-driven centre). They have a massive boat that gave all the divers plenty of space to gear up, and even a comfy sheltered seating area on the upper deck.

I got grouped with a lovely Malaysian lady dive master called Jesie, and I really liked her vibe — just the right amount of enthusiasm and realness. The currents were mild, and the waters were mostly warm except for a few chilly spots. We saw a massive Moray Eel on the first dive, and after that easy breezy dive with 12m visibility, I felt like my beach holiday was really complete. Overall, it was also nice to enjoy me-time without the raucous of the kids! HAHA.

The purple and white slug is called Nidubranch, and are found all around SEA seas.
The purple and white slug is called Nidubranch, and it’s found all over South East Asian seas.
Spot the sleepy cuttlefish.
Snooze o’clock for this cuttlefish.
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First time seeing some hilariously skittish dancing shrimps.

On our last dive, we met up with a trio of Batfish, which Jesie told us were fond of tailing divers. They think we’re turtles, and they love snacking on turtle poop. No kidding! Click here for proof caught on tape. Sorry guys, the most I can offer you is a fart. And I think I really whet their appetites because they kept on following me.

The best bit of that dive came at the end, when we went under our dive boat and swam through a massive school of Yellowtail Fusilier. Such a great way to conclude the dives!

Met up with the family at our resort’s beach after the diving to catch our very last sunset. 🙁 The tide was very low, so we could wade/snorkel quite some distance out onto this patch of sand island in the middle of the sea. From afar, walking on the sand gave the illusion of walking on water! It was an incredible feeling being on that little patch, far removed from the main beach. The sunset was divine that evening, and it was with an extremely heavy heart that I bid the day goodbye.

On the sand island.
On the sand island.
Found a lone puffer fish near our beach!
Found a lone puffer fish near our beach!

Koh Lipe’s food hasn’t been fantastic so far, but that’s also because I’ve set a pretty high standard since food everywhere else I’ve visited in Thailand has been nothing but amazing.  We are at Raklay restaurant on the last night, and it was decent. The king prawns were especially juicy and sweet!

Bye bye, Koh Lipe… I love you.